Picture of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     James Robson

James Robson PhD Assistant Professor in Human Dimensions of Sustainability, School of Environment and Sustainability

UNESCO Chair in Biocultural Diversity, Sustainability, Reconciliation, and Renewal

Room 336, Kirk Hall

Research Area(s)

  • Environmental governance through collective action
  • Tracking and explaining change in commons regimes
  • The migration-environment-development nexus
  • Local approaches to biodiversity conservation


I'm always looking to hear from strong students interested in issues related to local forms of environmental governance (practice, knowledge, institutions), and committed to the principles of community engagement.

I’m currently looking for Spanish-speaking students (Master’s or PhD) to work on the following planned research project (2018-2022):

Engaging Indigenous Youth through Innovative Environmental Co-Governance Arrangements

Working with select Indigenous communities in Canada and Mexico where we have on-going relationships, we will address the question: How can governance for sustainability and biocultural diversity effectively engage young Indigenous women and men and strengthen community capacities for long-term land and resource stewardship?  The proposed research will (a) examine how local people understand the social, cultural and demographic drivers that shape environmental governance institutions and processes; and (b) select and assess institutional innovations to better engage young women and men in these arrangements.

Academic Credentials

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Natural Resources and Environmental Management. University of Manitoba
  • Master of Arts in Environment, Development, and Policy (Distinction). University of Sussex
  • Bachelor of Science in Geography (Honours). University of Liverpool

Research Profile

My substantive area of expertise lies in interdisciplinary and applied environmental research, with special emphasis on the drivers, and impacts, of demographic, social, and environmental change as they affect remote and rural communities, especially in forested landscapes. It is research firmly couched in the ideals of community engagement and participation.  A feature of my work conducted in Canada, Mexico, and Bolivia has been the dissemination of research knowledge in forms easily accessed and understood by participating communities and wider civil society.  My goal is to move knowledge into the arenas of practice and policy, where it can be of specific value in supporting rural communities.

My research is largely ethnographic in nature, with a geographic focus on Mexico, Latin America, and Canada (although I’m interested in the above themes no matter where they might unfold). I work in regions where a strong interdependency exists between biological and cultural diversity.

I’m particularly interested in learning more about how remote and rural communities respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by globalized change (i.e. global environmental change, economic and cultural globalization). This includes community-driven innovations, especially those targeted at or directly involving youth, to adapt customary systems of governance and resource use.


Current Research

  • The Future of Forest Work and Communities (SSHRC Connection Grant, Applicant) (2017-2018)
  • Ethnobiology Design and Food System Innovation in Bolivia and Canada (SSHRC Insight Grant, Co-Applicant)
  • The Role of Stakeholder and Public Participation in Collaborative Forest Governance in Canada: Contributing to Theory and Practice through Comparative Study (SSHRC Insight Grant, Collaborator)
A short video of Future of Forest Work youth visioning workshop held in Bolivia in August 2017.

Selected Publications

Robson, J.P. (In Press)  Indigenous communities, migrant organisations, and the ephemeral nature of translocality. Latin American Research Review.

Robson, J.P., Klooster, D.J., Worthen, H., and Hernandez-Diaz, J.  2017.  Migration and agrarian transformation in Indigenous Mexico.  Journal of Agrarian Change, first online: 125. https://doi.org/10.1111/joac.12224

Boillat, S., Scarpa,F.M., Robson, J.P., Gasparri, I., Aide, A.T.M., Aquiar A.P.D., Anderson, L.O., Batistella, M., Fonseca, M.G., Futemma, C., Grau, H.R., Mathez-Stiefel, S.-L., Metzger, J.P., Ometto, J.P.H.B., Pedlowski, M.A., Perz, S.G., Robiglio, V., Soler, L., Vieira, I., and Brondizio, E.S.  2017.  Land system science in Latin America: Challenges and Perspectives. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 26-27: 37-46.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.01.015 

Lira, M., Robson, J.P., and Klooster, D.  2016.  Can indigenous transborder migrants affect environmental governance in their communities of origin? Evidence from Mexico. Population and Environment, 37(4): 464-478.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-015-0247-2

Robson, J.P., Sinclair, A.J., and Diduck, A.  2015.  A study of institutional origins and change in a Canadian urban commons. International Journal of the Commons, 9(2): 698-719.  http://doi.org/10.18352/ijc.548

Robson, J.P. and Wiest, R.  2014.  Transnational migration, customary governance and the future of community: A case study from Oaxaca, Mexico.  Latin American Perspectives, 41(3): 103-117.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X13506689

Robson, J.P., Sinclair, A.J., Davidson-Hunt, I.J., and Diduck, A.  2013.  What’s in a name: The search for common ground in Kenora, northwestern Ontario. Journal of Public Deliberation 9(2): Article 7. 

Robson, J.P and Lichtenstein, G.  2013.  Current trends in Latin American commons research.  Journal of Latin American Geography, 12(1): 5-33.  https://doi.org/10.1353/lag.2013.0001

Davidson-Hunt, I.J., Turner, K.L., Te Pareake Mead, A., Cabrera-Lopez, J., Bolton, R., Idrobo, C.J., Miretski, I., Morrison, A., and Robson, J.P.  2012.  Biocultural design: A new conceptual framework for sustainable development in rural indigenous and local communities. Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society, 5(2): 33-45.  http://sapiens.revues.org/1382

Courses Taught

  • ENVS 803 – Research in Environment & Sustainability 
  • ENVS 808 – Tools and Applications for Sustainability Problem-Solving